From The Next Big Thing To Struggling Winger, Domenico Berardi's Fall From Grace Is Shocking

From The Next Big Thing To Struggling Winger, Domenico Berardi's Fall From Grace Is Shocking
14:38, 05 Feb 2018

With the transfer window now firmly closed, football fans everywhere can enjoy one of those rare weeks where the rumour mill remains closed and attention is firmly focussed upon events on the pitch. Such periods never last long and soon the gossip will begin again, and it is often that the same names and stories are recycled over and over again, certain players seemingly always mentioned as a target for the top clubs.

Indeed it has always been this way, with rarely a week passing by that Radja Nainggolan isn’t linked with Chelsea or Manchester United, while it feels like Fiorentina’s Khouma Babacar has been wanted by Crystal Palace in every transfer window since 1994. However, the powerful striker finally did leave La Viola last month, opting to join Sassuolo in one of January’s more underreported pieces of news.

The 24-year-old will hope to kickstart his career with the Neroverdi, but the fact that one of his new team-mates is still at the club offers a cautionary tale. There was a time recently when the name of Domenico Berardi was among those constantly being discussed, co-owned by Juventus and identified as a future Bianconeri star.

When FIFA outlawed that system, Sassuolo bought him outright and – while the Old Lady retained an option to sign the young winger before anyone else – that merely served to open the door for more rumours. He admitted to being a fan of Inter growing up, prompting the Italian press to speculate that the Milan side could be the one to lure him away, while elsewhere, talk of interest from then Liverpool saw English fans take notice of Berardi for the first time.

Quickly they learned that he had only been discovered when playing five-a-side with his brother at University, promptly joining Sassuolo’s youth system and two years later he was playing in Serie B. He bagged 11 goals in that campaign to help the Neroverdi reach the top flight for the first time in the club’s history, his own performances only improving against superior opposition as his reputation mushroomed rapidly.

His debut season in Serie A saw him weigh in with 16 goals and six assists, following that up with 15 goals and 10 assists in 2014/15, a return which – as the tweet above highlights – placed Berardi in some pretty elite company. A year later he managed just seven goals and six assists, but those figures were clearly affected by defences keying in on him and he was often able to act as decoy for others, still playing a vital role as Sassuolo qualified for the Europa League.

He had certainly won over Max Allegri, sacked by Milan after a January 2014 clash with Sassuolo in which Berardi bagged all four goals in a stunning 4-3 victory for the Emilia-Romagna based minnows. The Coach was then appointed by Juve and they tried to exercise their option on him at the end of 2015/16, but the player refused, citing a desire to play regularly rather than be on the Bianconeri bench.

That decision was applauded by many, but in retrospect, it was perhaps the first sign of a real issue. In the 18 months since rebuffing the advances of the Old Lady, Berardi has managed a total of just seven goals and he can certainly not claim to be helping those around him as he had previously. Sassuolo are currently just five points above the relegation zone and worse still, they have managed a total of just 14 goals in the first 22 rounds of action, only one more than rock bottom Benevento and in very real danger of slipping even further.

Previously one of Europe’s hottest talents, Berardi will be 24 this summer and his lack of ambition appears to have been noted. January came and went without mention of the Calabrese winger, undoubtedly the first transfer window since that season in Serie B where he wasn’t linked with a move away from Sassuolo. Even more telling is that Napoli and Juventus – both previously well-discussed suitors for Berardi – spent the month locked in a head-to-head battle for another Neroverdi prospect, Matteo Politano.

A youth product of AS Roma, the latter has steadily improved over the last few seasons and while he cannot claim a breakout campaign like those of his team-mate, he has scored more goals than him over the last 18 months. Berardi’s fall from grace has taken far longer than his meteoric rise, but a lack of ambition and constant disciplinary issues – he has 43 yellow cards and three red in just four-and-a-half Serie A seasons – have clearly become unpalatable.

Domenico Berardi was once Italy’s most highly regarded youngster and a talent on the radar of every big club in Europe, yet is currently churning out mediocre performances for a club battling to retain their top-flight status. He was labelled a “predestinato,” a player destined to become truly great, but now he’s not even the best winger on his own team.

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